What Is the Right Age to Start Orthodontic Treatment?
When you think about orthodontics, you probably picture brace-faced tweens and teens. But many people get braces or other orthodontic treatment as adults, and young children with certain conditions may need treatment earlier than most.
Many parents worry about taking their child to an orthodontist too early or too late. So what is the best age to start orthodontic treatment?
What age to start orthodontics depends on many factors. According to the American Association of Orthodontists, children should have their first visit with an orthodontist by the time they reach 7 years of age or earlier if there are any signs of issues. By the age of 7, children still have some baby teeth mixed in with a few adult teeth, including their first molars.
While it’s unlikely that a child will need braces at that age, the orthodontist will be able to evaluate their gums and jaw to make sure their adult teeth will grow in correctly. Sometimes, they find issues that need to be taken care of right away so they don’t become more severe in the future.
The orthodontist will look inside your child’s mouth to make sure their baby teeth are making room for their adult teeth to grow in properly. They’ll also check your child’s jaw to make sure it’s developing correctly. If they find issues, they may suggest spacers, palatial extenders or other interventions.
In some cases, a child may need to see an orthodontist before their 7th birthday. Some reasons a child might need to see an orthodontist sooner include:
- Their baby teeth came in before or later than expected.
- They have trouble chewing, or you hear clicking sounds when they chew.
- They have extra or missing teeth.
- They have crooked or overlapping teeth.
- There are large gaps between the child’s teeth.
- The child has an overbite (the top teeth extend past the bottom teeth when the teeth are closed).
- They have an underbite (the bottom teeth extend further than the top teeth when the child bites down).
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Just like anything else, starting orthodontic appointments early has its benefits, but it also has drawbacks. Some of the benefits include:
- Issues can be fixed early. Early intervention, while the face and jaw are still developing, can prevent issues from becoming severe or permanent over time.
- It prevents pain. When teeth grow in incorrectly, it can cause discomfort and pain, especially when chewing.
- It can lead to better oral health. It’s much easier to brush straight teeth than it is to brush crooked or overlapping teeth. Because the teeth are easier to clean, the risk of cavities and gum disease is lowered.
- It may eliminate the need for more extensive orthodontic work later. An orthodontist can identify issues and intervene to correct them. This may reduce the need for more invasive orthodontic treatments in the future.
- It preserves self-esteem. Puberty is hard enough for kids without the hassles of dental issues. An orthodontist may be able to fix those issues early, so your child can smile with confidence when they’re a teenager.
Downsides of Starting Early
The cons of taking your child to see an orthodontist early include:
- Frustration and burnout: If issues are found, it could result in your child spending more time with an orthodontist than they would if they had waited until they were older. If they feel like they’re always at the orthodontist’s office, they may try to avoid going.
- Resentment: Young children like to have fun, and going to the dentist is never fun — no matter how many lollipops or stickers they give you. If they have to miss out on a lot of fun activities because of orthodontist appointments, they may start to resent it.
- Parental compliance: Children aren’t responsible enough to make sure they practice good oral hygiene habits, so parents need to be diligent about making sure children brush their teeth correctly. However, that can be hard to do if you have a full-time job, more children or other commitments.
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The only benefit to waiting is that it could reduce the amount of time your child has to spend in an orthodontist’s office. However, there are several downsides to waiting. Some of these drawbacks include:
- Issues might not be caught in time. Some problems are easier to fix when the face and jaw are still growing. If the issues are fixed later, such as after puberty, the results might not be optimal.
- There may be increased pain and discomfort. If orthodontic dental issues are left untreated, your child may experience pain and discomfort while they’re chewing.
- Your child could experience jaw issues. Untreated orthodontic issues could result in a stiff jaw or temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders.
- There’s a risk of facial asymmetry. If dental issues cause the jaw to shift, the child’s face may lose its symmetry. This can become permanent if it’s left untreated until puberty.
- It may open the door to self-esteem issues. If a child is uncomfortable with the way their smile looks, they could become self-conscious and afraid to smile in front of others.
- There’s a risk of tooth decay and gum disease. Crooked and overlapping teeth are harder to clean, and as a result, food and bacteria could become trapped and cause gum disease or cavities.
There are huge benefits to seeing an orthodontist at an early age and several disadvantages to waiting. While you might not think your child needs orthodontic treatment, some issues are hard to see unless you know what you’re looking for. The only way to know for sure is to book an appointment for an orthodontist evaluation.
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